India’s Christmas Dilemma

Posted by Sukhomay Chatterjee in Human Rights, Politics, Racism, Society
December 26, 2017

Most of us would have come across this controversial news regarding the opposition of a certain Hindu radical group named Hindu Jagran Manch to the celebration of Christmas in convent schools by non-Christian (read Hindu) students, claiming the celebrations are a front for conversion of such students by the school authorities. They also gave written warnings to schools in Aligarh and elsewhere to stop any kind of celebrations.

To begin with, I must admit that this is arguably the most baseless and erroneous claim I have ever come across. Starting with violent acts of mob lynching, this particular incident has taken this polemic of radicalization to a record low – where they would not hesitate to poison the minds of innocent children with unnecessary hatred towards each other.

When I heard this news, I recalled my own experience of going to a convent school for a few years where the founders and the principal were all Christians. Every morning we said prayers addressed to “Our Father”, without any word of Hindi or Sanskrit, that were used in my latter school. In every classroom, there was a miniature woodcut sculpture of crucified Jesus. There were several paintings on the life of Jesus and psalms from the Bible all along the corridors.

These were some of the symbols of Christianity that we came across on a daily basis. Although the children celebrated all the festivals with equal fervour, Christmas celebrations were undoubtedly special. Did doing all this make us any less of a Hindu or an Indian? Did any of us non-Christians convert to Christianity? Have we shown any disrespect to our respective religions or cultures? Do these organizations even have a single line of factual data to prove their towering claims?

The answer to all these questions is a big NO. On the contrary, I would argue that instead of taking us away from our own religion, these schools give us an opportunity to know and understand their religion and customs by being a part of it. It develops a sense of affection and respect towards the religion and the people practising it. At the same time, it also provides us with an opportunity to see our religion through the eyes of others and receive feedback for our own good. The school authorities did a commendable job by not giving in to the undemocratic and pointless demands of these religious hooligans.

Irrespective of religion, kids have a special place for Christmas in their heart. The idea of Santa Claus, gifts and cakes itself is so attractive to them that they don’t even care about religion. This is one festival that everyone can enjoy and celebrate in their own way, thus making it a pan-religious and pan-cultural festival.

Coming back to the recent issue, the claims made by these insignificant groups not only highlights their lack of faith and conviction in their own religion, but also in the upbringing they give to their children. They have undermined the strength and dynamic nature of Hinduism by creating a hilarious situation where the majority is apprehensive of the minority.

They tend to forget that the strength of Hinduism lies in its own internal diversity that originates from the freedom of choice given to its followers to choose their own gods, customs as well as texts. This makes it entirely different from other religions, including Christianity, which are bound to a single god and holy text. This is the main reason for its continuing existence.

It is indeed true that the Christian missionaries resorted to conversion to spread their religion in India and other parts of the world, and this forms the base of the recent agitations. But we have to also consider that most of these converts comprise of either the tribal or Dalit population. Unfortunately, these sections have been historically kept out of the mainstream Hindu culture. Christianity did the needful by filling in this vacuum, because we all need some sort of religious affirmation and a God to look up to in times of distress. It is a basic human need that Hinduism failed to provide them with.

So these actions of opening old wounds do not mean anything and are just another way to create social unrest and assert religious radicalism in the minds of the people. Since antiquity, Hinduism has seen numerous civilizations, empires, invaders and fanatics, but has never lost its stronghold and continues to mutually prosper with other religions. Although it has some intrinsic faults, the most imminent danger it faces today is from its own people, some of whom continue to feed religious paranoia among its believers. It is most imperative for us to remember that religions, like civilizations, fall not due to any external factor but mainly due to the decay within.

So my humble request to my fellow countrymen is to simply ignore such petty issues and celebrate every religion and every festival as their own, and leave a great composite culture for our next generation to cherish, instead of dividing them with narrow walls of hatred and disgust.